It’s finally here! Football season has arrived. Refill your fridge, update your favorite food delivery list, flip your couch cushions, and put fresh batteries in your TV remote. It’s a new season and last year’s fantasy football winners are all but forgotten. It’s time for preseason football—the start of fantasy championships. There will be injuries, dropped passes, poorly run routes, and way too many commercials, but there is plenty to look for during preseason football. Below are 5 players to watch in the preseason that offer immense upside and are worth keeping an eye on as we pour a beer and begin our fantasy seasons.
Rookie running backs are overrated. I realize Joique Bell has a nagging injury and that he wasn’t healthy during the off season, but when has he ever been? Fantasy players have short memories, which is great for our pride, but can cause us to forget how productive non-flashy players were in previous years. In 2014, Bell rushed 223 times, caught 34 passes, ran for 1,182 total yards and amassed 8 TDs while sharing touches with Reggie Bush. Reports out of Detroit say rookie running back Ameer Abdullah is being groomed for the Reggie Bush role. It sounds like Bell is going to continue his same role in the offense. Right now Bell is being drafted in the late 5th to late 6th round. A proven RB2 for that price is an obvious value. I’m hoping to see Bell participate at full strength over the next few weeks, but if he gets in a preseason game and looks healthy, his current ADP will rise.
Patriots running backs can post top 10 fantasy numbers any given week with Bill Belichick on the sidelines. The difficulty is figuring out which running back it will be from week-to-week. Last season, Jonas Gray put up 201 yards on 37 carries for 4 TDs against the Indianapolis Colts in week 11. Gray was replaced by Blount after he arrived late to a team meeting. Week 1 will be Gray’s chance to take his job back since Blount is suspended for marijuana use. Gray gets his opportunity against a sub-par Pittsburgh defense on a Thursday night at home in Gillette Stadium, possibly without Tom Brady. If he can capitalize and post solid numbers without turning the ball over, Gray could earn himself a lot more playing time. It’s always risky taking a New England running back, but Gray is currently undrafted in most leagues, so he’s an immense value and it looks like the stars are aligning for a big performance in Week 1.
Eddie Royal has quietly been one of the most consistent WR3s in the NFL. He has 15 TDs over the past 2 seasons, including several multi-TD performances. He was a red zone target for Philip Rivers in San Diego, and now he’ll be playing the Wes Welker role in Adam Gase’s offense for the Chicago Bears. With Kevin White sidelined because of shin splints, Royal is getting valuable reps with his old pal, Jay Cutler. It’s only the preseason, but any signs of a Cutler-Royal connection will pique my interest. I’m drafting Royal as a steady WR3 with WR2 upside—especially if White gets off to a slow start, or Alshon misses time like last year. The Bears face the Green Bay Packers in week 1, so they’re likely to be trailing and Royal will likely be the dump-off man. I wouldn’t be afraid to start Royal as a PPR flex week 1.
It’s hard to ignore the momentum building around Markus Wheaton, especially considering his current draft position. Ben Roethlisberger told the media he expects Wheaton to be the Steelers starting wide receiver opposite Antonio Brown. Wheaton began the 2014 season as the team’s WR2, but was overshadowed by Martavis Bryant. Although I expect Bryant to be a better overall play than Wheaton, there may be more consistency at the WR2 position. If Roethlisberger is touting Wheaton, he’s definitely worth the 12-15th round pick it currently costs to draft him. I’ll be looking at target numbers and catch percentage between Wheaton and Bryant as we approach the regular season.
Oh, how soon we forget. Last year was a disappointing season for all the 49ers players. Vernon Davis put up such pedestrian numbers that fantasy owners were unsure if he was even playing on Sundays. Only 1 season removed from his top 5 finish as a fantasy tight end, Davis will look to rebound in a newly constructed offense. New offensive coordinator, George Patrick “Geep” Chryst, will target the TE position more than years prior. The last time Chryst ran an offense (’99-’00 for the San Diego Chargers), the team’s leading pass catcher was Freddie Jones—a tight end. With veterans like Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Reggie Bush lining up on his side, and the defense in constant flux, Davis should see plenty of single coverage and could reasonably finish as a high-end TE1 this year. If he gets looks in the preseason, his value will climb, so get him while you can.
These are the 5 best values I’ve been drafting so far. There’s no guarantee they will pay off, but the reward far exceeds the risk for each of these players. If Joique Bell returns to form, he could be a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside (last season he finished as RB13 in PPR leagues). Wheaton and Royal could be the late-round stashes that get you to the playoffs, especially if there are any injuries to their team’s WR corps. Gray and Davis are so cheap, you can spend your last round pick on them in most leagues. Now is the time to draft these players before they impress in the preseason. Now grab a beer, relax, and get ready for some football.
Do you agree? Are there better sleeper candidates? Let me know on Twitter: @mysleepers. Follow me for more #sleeper news and my upcoming DFS plays of the week.